Friday 18 August 2017

Trump ramps up Comey row with 'tape' threat

US President Donald Trump kisses First Lady Melania Trump during an event for military spouses in the East Room of the White House in Washington, DC, yesterday. Photo: Saul Loeb/Getty Images
US President Donald Trump kisses First Lady Melania Trump during an event for military spouses in the East Room of the White House in Washington, DC, yesterday. Photo: Saul Loeb/Getty Images

Ruth Sherlock

Donald Trump, the US president, escalated his feud with James Comey yesterday after apparently suggesting that their private conversations were recorded and warning the former FBI chief against leaking information.

"James Comey better hope that there are no 'tapes' of our conversations before he starts leaking to the press!" Mr Trump wrote on Twitter.

The message followed reports that Mr Trump asked for a pledge of loyalty from Mr Comey during a private dinner shortly after the inauguration in January.

Unnamed associates of Mr Comey told the 'New York Times' that the FBI director turned down Mr Trump's demand, instead offering the president his honesty.

Former FBI director James Comey, who Mr Trump sacked
Former FBI director James Comey, who Mr Trump sacked

Sean Spicer, Mr Trump's spokesman, repeatedly refused to say last night whether or not conversations in the White House, including in the Oval Office, were being recorded.

Fixated

Mr Comey was "not worried about any tapes" Mr Trump may have of their conversation, according to reports.

Mr Trump is said be "fixated" by news coverage of his decision to fire Mr Comey while the FBI was conducting an investigation into alleged collusion between Moscow and the presidential campaign.

Yesterday he defended the struggle by his administration to come up with a consistent timeline and threatened to cancel press briefings.

Mr Trump tweeted: "As a very active president with lots of things happening, it is not possible for my surrogates to stand at podium with perfect accuracy!"

He added: "Maybe the best thing to do would be to cancel all future 'press briefings' and hand out written responses for the sake of accuracy???"

Mr Trump also cited comments from James Clapper, the director of national intelligence, at a senate hearing earlier this week that he was not aware of any evidence demonstrating collusion between Trump's campaign and Russia.

"When James Clapper himself, and virtually everyone else with knowledge of the witch hunt, says there is no collusion, when does it end?" Mr Trump tweeted.

Press aides have repeatedly insisted that Mr Trump decided to dismiss Mr Comey on the advice of Rod Rosenstein, the US deputy attorney general.

This was contradicted by Mr Trump when he told NBC News he had planned to fire Mr Comey regardless of Mr Rosenstein's recommendation.

In the interview, Mr Trump also connected the decision to the FBI's Russia investigation.

"[I]n fact when I decided to just do it, I said to myself, I said you know, this Russia thing with Trump and Russia is a made-up story," Mr Trump said.

Mr Trump sought to play down his Russia connections in the interview.

A letter released yesterday from the president's lawyers publicly set out the Russian transactions reported on Mr Trump's tax returns for the first time.

The letter, dated March 8, said that a review of the past 10 years of tax returns did not reflect "any income of any type from Russian sources".

Property

But the letter noted "exceptions", citing income from the 2013 Miss Universe pageant held in Moscow and a property sold to a Russian billionaire in 2008 for $95m.

The unnamed Russian billionaire is believed to be Dmitry Rybolovlev, whose financial empire springs from his companies' production of potash, used for fertiliser. His purchase of the home has been previously reported.

Mr Spicer was asked about the possibility of White House recordings three times. At one point he said: "I've talked to the president. The president had nothing further to add."

He denied that Mr Trump had threatened Mr Comey by suggesting there were tapes.

Mr Spicer said: "That's not a threat, he's simply stated a fact. The tweet speaks for itself. I'm moving on."

Asked if it was true that Mr Trump had asked Mr Comey for a pledge of loyalty at their January 27 dinner, he replied: "No." (© Daily Telegraph London)

Telegraph.co.uk

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